I just saw an article describing another case where the CA voting rights act imposes a remedy of (gerrymandered) districts on an at-large election.
(I previously wrote about the CA voting rights act and the city of Modesto)
Madera Unified case is changing elections throughout California
An injunction in the case is forcing Madera Unified, which is 82% Latino, to change the way it elects its board.
The latest step along that road was a ruling in September by Madera County Superior Court Judge James E. Oakley, who invalidated, in advance, the results of the November school board election. Oakley said Madera’s at-large voting system, in which all voters in the district cast ballots for all board members rather than for a candidate representing their section of town, violated the Voting Rights Act.
Relying on the remedy suggested by the law, he called for the district to be divided into seven trustee areas, with candidates to run in each.
The state’s Voting Rights Act, enacted in 2002, bans at-large voting if there is evidence that it “impairs the ability” of a minority group “to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.”
Other jurisdictions are paying heed. In the wake of Oakley’s order, the Madera City Council decided to switch to district elections, City Councilman Robert Poythress said. And in neighboring Fresno County, where 28 of 32 school boards use at-large elections, all 28 decided to follow Madera’s lead and switch to district elections, county schools Supt. Larry Powell said.
And this gem:
Deciding not to fight the ruling, the school board drew up a map in which three of the seven voting districts have Latino majorities. In a delicate exercise in gerrymandering, each of the incumbents was given a separate district.
I’m no fan of at-large voting but imposed gerrymandered districts is a remedy that is worse then the previous situation. There should either be a process to ensure that the districts are not gerrymandered (such as algorithmic redistricting) or use of a decent multi-winner election method.
Regarding the remarkable clip of rule breaking Texas legislators voting for their colleagues, here is the transcript, including a statement from Alexis DeLee, Spokesperson for House Speaker, Tom Craddick:
There’s been a lot of debate at the State Capitol on bills relating to voter integrity. Some lawmakers are pushing for measures such as requiring voters to show a photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot.
Another bill would criminalize anyone who delivers a ballot for someone unable to drive to the polls.
With so much emphasis on one vote for one person, you’d think lawmakers would make sure they follow the rules, too.
In this CBS 42 Investigates, Nanci Wilson found many don’t.
This is an astounding video showing Texas legislators voting for absent members.
Such votes are against the rules of the Texas legislature but are apparently common practice.
- Does willfully violating the rules mean that the legislators are violating their oaths of office?
- Are these votes courtesy votes done with the consent of the absentee member or are a mad mercenary attempt to get as many votes as possible in the rule-breaking voter’s favor?
[Update: here is the transcript]
I’ve been part of a lively debate about some of the issues raised by this video in this forum. I have a number of comments there, so be sure to check it out.
Speaking of the case by Modesto disputing the CA voting rights act, the Ballot Access News reports this update:
Both Sides Have Now Filed U.S. Supreme Court Briefs in Modesto Case
The city of Modesto, California, is trying to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate a California election law that will force Modesto to elect its city councilmembers by district. The California law is somewhat like the federal voting rights act, only it is stronger. Modesto will be forced to use districts to elect its city council because under the at-large system, virtually no Hispanics have ever been elected. Here is the brief of the organization opposed to the city. The case is City of Modesto v Sanchez, no. 07-88.
(Yes, yes, I know that I still need to research the federal voting rights act and it’s impact on gerrymandering. Now I’ll also need to be aware of it’s impact on proportional representation systems.)
California has a voting rights act enacted in 2002. You can read about it at fairvote and at National Demographics Corporation (NDC) Research (and here is a pdf: NDC Research).
The act can cause local governments that use at-large methods of elections (as opposed to single-winner districts) and that have under-representation of minorities to have court enforced remedies imposed on them. The act implies that those remedies are typically the imposition of a single-winner districting solution.
The city of Modesto was sued in 2004 under this act and lost. They have a 25% Hispanic population but since 1911 one Hispanic city council-member has been elected for their at-large 5 member council. The city is counter suing and argues that the California Voting Rights Act violates the U.S. Constitution. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
The CA voting rights act seems to have a bias that at-large elections are the only source of distorted representation and that single winner districts is the preferred remedy. These assumptions should be questioned.
Most single winner districts are extremely predictable in that one can predict with very high probability who will win an election long before the actual election occurs.
This certainly occurs with gerrymandered single winner districts and is possibly inherit to single winner districts that use the conventional plurality voting system (vote for one, whoever gets the most votes wins).
Only a few factors can lead to a very solid prediction of who will win. Incumbency is one such factor. Incumbents almost never lose.
Take the 2006 midterm elections as an example. This is viewed as ‘a great change election’. In that election over 94% of incumbents remained in power. And this, indeed, was a shake-up. Normally an incumbent will win an election 98% of the time.
To see just how predictable elections are, consider the projections that FairVote makes in it’s Monopoly politics report. They make their predictions 2 years ahead of the elections and have had an accuracy rate of 99.8% in projecting winners in the 1,613 races the called between 1996-2004 (for 552 races they did
not make predictions but instead labeled these races as competitive or vulnerable). The only data that they use in predicting the winner for a district is the results from recent federal elections in the district and the incumbent’s party and seniority.
So incumbents win 98% of the time and 75% of US legislature elections are predictable with 99.8% accuracy more than one year ahead of the elections. In other words, we don’t really have a two party dominated political system. Instead each voter is effectively dominated by one party.
An open question:
The ‘one party’ article references the ‘political oddsmaker’ site by Ron Faucheux. However, the link to it is broken. Is this still online? What is the link?
An excellent example of the disenfranchisement that can be caused by using single winner districts to elect members to a legislature can be seen in the 1926 Canadian federal election for the province of Manitoba.
The province of Manitoba was entitled to 17 seats. The Conservative party had 42.2% of the popular vote within Manitoba but was unable to win any of the single winner districts.
Here is the data care of RangeVoting.org :
||Number of seats
More information about the 1926 Manitoba election can also be found on wikipedia
I’m a sucker for pictures. They communicate ideas quite succinctly.
Here I show some examples of congressional districts as they are drawn currently and as the shortest split-line algorithm would draw them. Continue reading
If one insists on electing members of a legislative body via districted single-winner elections then the problem of gerrymandering will surface.
Can gerrymandering be solved?
There are a number of proposed reforms out there. Continue reading
If my packing the house post did not sufficiently explain how gerrymandering can, well, pack the house then perhaps the folks at the USC Game Innovation Lab and the USC Annenberg Center for Communications can do a better job.
They have developed a surprisingly fun game to demonstrate how to use redistricting to further political aims. They show how a political operative can draw districts to:
- perform a partisan gerrymander that favors one party
- perform a bipartisan gerrymander that favors multiple parties and ensures the reelection of incumbents
- satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act yet still achieve a partisan gerrymander
Additionally, and perhaps unintentionally, they show how a proposed reform can be shot down by those who have a political stake in the outcome.
You can play the game at http://www.redistrictinggame.org/. Warning: the game requires flash.